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CNN Larry King Weekend
Highlights of Interviews With Rosie O'Donnell
Aired March 16, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSIE O'DONNELL, TALK SHOW HOST: I was food shopping in the cereal aisle last month, for no apparent reason I started singing, "Honeycomb's big, yeah, yeah, yeah!"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: She's outspoken, she's outrageous, and now she's out of the closet. Rosie O'Donnell is next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Thanks for joining us. Thursday night, ABC aired a very public announcement. Rosie O'Donnell told Diane Sawyer she's gay, almost specifically as a gay parent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like. I am the gay parent. America has watched me parent my children on TV for six years. They know what kind of parent I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Rosie's aim was to bring attention to gay parents and give them a face. And while we didn't talk about sexuality in our most recent interview with her, we did learn Rosie is a firm believer in adoption.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCT. 15, 1999)
KING: What's adoption like?
O'DONNELL: It's the best thing that ever happened to me in the world, and it's the greatest gift. And I think in the whole adoption story, birth mothers are often the ones who are not celebrated. And people have said to me, it's such a great thing that you adopt. Well, it's not really a great thing that I adopt. I'm the lucky one who gets to adopt. It's a great thing that the parents of both of my children knew that they were not capable of giving them the kind of life they deserve.
KING: But their your children, right?
O'DONNELL: Without a doubt.
KING: As Bob Contanine (ph) once wrote, "I have four children. Two are adopted. I forget which two.
KING: They're yours?
O'DONNELL: And people do say that to me. When George Burns died, I was reading in his obituary, they said his 82-year-old adopted son was at his bedside when his died -- 82 years and you need the descriptive adjective.
KING: And they still call him adopted.
O'DONNELL: Exactly. It's a ridiculous thing.
KING: Why are you not in movies? I saw a couple of movies of yours. You're terrific.
O'DONNELL: Thank you very much.
KING: Why don't you do more than that?
O'DONNELL: Well, when I got the job on the TV show when my son arrived in my life, I didn't want him to be on a movie set with him. I wanted him to have stability and to grow up in the same house, not have to got from set to set, have his cousins around, the same furniture. So I wanted a job that would provide me with stability.
And the job that I got bases me here in New York, and it allows me to have 15 weeks off during the year, and during that time, which is coinciding with their school schedules, we spend it together. So I choose not to work during the summer.
KING: Do you miss it?
O'DONNELL: Sometimes I do, I miss it, when I read a good script or see a great movie, and I think, I would have loved to that.
KING: Like that baseball movie. Wasn't that a treat?
O'DONNELL: Exactly. That was the best movie I've ever done, I think, and the most fun. And I knew when they were auditioning for that, I thought if I don't get this movie, I should quit show business, because I am the only person in Hollywood who can throw from third to first.
KING: When the children get older you might go back?
KING: So this is strictly a child thing.
O'DONNELL: It is, yes.
KING: Are you -- what about doing this show, and there's lots to talk about -- has surprised you the most, taking on a daily show?
O'DONNELL: Well, I didn't realize it would be as much work as it is, number one, and I didn't realize the effect that you have, the amount of power, sort of the ability to speak to millions of people every day, and the fact that people will listen and that there's a big responsibility that comes with that.
KING: Do you miss standup?
O'DONNELL: Sometimes I do, but I think I get to do a little bit of it on my show.
KING: But you were -- I mean, you were a terrific chronologist (ph)? You enjoy that club scene, didn't you?
O'DONNELL: I did.
KING: I remember that. You would go on and do your 40 minutes and specials...
O'DONNELL: Very much. Since I was 18 years old, I did probably 20 years on the road, different club to club every night, seven, eight shows a week, an hour at a time. And it gets to the point, though, when you're so known, it's hard to do comedy, because comedy is sort of the art form of every man. You go on stage. You don't know anyone in the audience, and they don't know you, and you tell them how your life is similar to them, and then you all laugh on a shared experience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I was in Baskin Robbins a couple of months ago -- you know, just looking.
O'DONNELL: OK, shut up.
Anyway, I was there, and this lady said to me, hey, are you Rosie O'Donnell? I said yes, I am. She said, I didn't know you was pregnant? Truth, 20-year struggle with weight came down to that moment. I looked at her, I said, yes, four and a half months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Once you have a life that they think that they know about, if you do anything that's different from what they perceive, they're not going to buy it. So it makes it hard to do standup once you're known.
KING: The fun thing about "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" was -- and its instant hit aspect -- was it's fun, right? In other words, we're not taking ourselves seriously. But of late, it seems that you get into serious areas.
O'DONNELL: We do. KING: And you make more news. By design?
O'DONNELL: Not by design. I think just sort of just as evolution. You know, we started out -- I hadn't met half the people who did the show. I was -- the thought of ever having Barbra Streisand this close to me was enough to give me a heart attack. Then we got into year two and we got into year three, and you know, all of the things that we had wanted to do we had done, so there was a way to sort of make it still interesting for me and not do the same interview over and over again with the same actors who had TV series.
And you know, I can't fake enthusiasm for never having met Barbra Streisand, because I've met her now, not that I'm still in love with her, which I am, but it's not that same experience that people got the first time that I met her.
KING: So the show is different?
O'DONNELL: It evolved, I think. And it's become sort of a different focus.
KING: How would you describe it now?
O'DONNELL: I think it's a celebration of all aspects of humanity. We have as many real people as we do celebrities, and we try to focus on the positive side, not to embarrass or humiliate, but try to celebrate.
KING: Are you surprised at how much tabloid attention you get?
O'DONNELL: I am. But truthfully, I don't see it as much now as I used to.
KING: I remember talking to you about how it upset you. There were days you'd go wild.
O'DONNELL: Yes, there were some days that -- some things really irk you, and you have to learn, if you're in the public, that that's going to happen. And you know, I don't mind when the things are true that they say, and there's not a lot you can do. But when they make something up totally, sometimes that makes you insane. But I realize you can't fight it, because it only makes you worse. So I sort of tend to ignore the whole thing.
KING: Ever thought of suing?
O'DONNELL: No, never. But then again, they've never really said anything about me that I felt was, you know, slanderous in that capacity. I know that Carol Burnett, whose both parents were alcoholic, they said she was drunk in a restaurant, and...
KING: She won that.
O'DONNELL: Exactly, but that -- you know, they sort of slandered her good name by accusing her of something that had caused her so much pain in her life. And you know, they haven't really been horrific to me, to tell you the truth, and they've been very respectful of my children. Because I don't put my children to television, I don't bring them to premiers, and whenever the paparazzi have had a photo of either of my children, "The Enquirer" and "The Star" both have not published the pictures or only the ones where the face is not identifiable.
KING: What's your fear of a picture of baby...
O'DONNELL: Well, both my children are adopted, and I just think that there's a heavy price to pay by being famous in America. And it's hard for them when I go to the mall and everybody talks to me and nobody talks to them. And I think that the more people know what they look like, the more that their ability to enjoy an afternoon at the park with the nanny or withy my brother goes away. You know, when we want to go to Disney World, my sister takes them, so that everyone's not saying, there's Rosie. My son said to me recently, four years old, it's always Rosie O'Donnell, Rosie O'Donnell -- "Rosie O'Donnell" is a show. And I said, that's right, honey, "Rosie O'Donnell" is a show.
KING: So what's it like for the little Irish girl to have this unreal life, who -- the kid who would have liked a couple of years ago to just go to Disney.
O'DONNELL: You know, I've never been to Disney. Truthfully, we were kids who grew up on Long Island without a lot of money, without a mom, and we never went to Disney World or Disney Land. I've never been there yes. So I'm planning...
KING: Now if you go, you have to go with armed guards, right?
O'DONNELL: Well, yes, you have to go with security. And you know, mostly the part that's sort of a bummer about the amount of fame is the attention that it takes away from a child. If I was not famous and I was walking through the mall with my daughter, people stop and say, my, God, that's a beautiful baby. But they see me, and she gets no attention. There always at me, and you know, it's a different kind of life for them.
KING: I am going to ask you in a minute about privacy and whether we're entitled to it.
And lots more with Rosie O'Donnell, lots more to come. She's with us for the full hour.
This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")
MADONNA, ACTRESS: What are you looking at?
O'DONNELL: Yes, what are you looking at?
GEENA DAVIS, ACTRESS: Nothing.
O'DONNELL: That's right, nothing. UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: All these girls going to be in the league?
MADONNA: You wish.
O'DONNELL: You do wish.
MADONNA: They're going to have four teams, 16 girls to a team.
O'DONNELL: That's right.
DAVIS: Sixty-four girls.
O'DONNELL: Yes, what are you and genius?
MADONNA: You know, they've got over a hundred girls here, so some of you's are going to have to go home.
O'DONNELL: Yes, sorry about that.
DAVIS: Come on, Doris. These people are jerks.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: What do you mean some of us?
DAVIS: Do it.
MADONNA: OK, some of them are going home.
O'DONNELL: Hey, how did you do that? Excuse me, hey, hey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This is being discussed in the political arena and every arena. What part of your life do I have the right to know?
O'DONNELL: I think it depends on the individual, you know. I think that if President Clinton, at the height of that whole Monica Lewinsky scandal had said, this is my adult life and I'm not discussing it with you now, nor will I ever, that would have been the end of the story. I think that once you open the door and allow people in on a certain aspect, it's very hard to then control how far that ripple effect is. So I think that the person who is known or famous has the ability to decide what they do or don't want to share.
KING: What do you think about you I am entitled to know?
O'DONNELL: Depends what you want the know. If we were doing an interview, and you asked me something I didn't want to answer, I would say, I'd rather not answer that.
KING: The feeling that we're entitled to know celebrities' lives.
O'DONNELL: Well, I'm really not sure, you know, because I think that you're entitled to know what the celebrity wants to share, although not a lot of people agree with me. But on my show when there's a celebrity on, let's say who has had a divorce or has an issue in their life that they'd rather not discuss, we don't discuss it. And they know that our show is a safe zone, much like Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas. You never watched that show and thought, oh, my Lord, the guest is in trouble. You know, it's always supposed to be a safe place.
KING: Sinatra told me in one of our many interviews, he told me, the only thing I owe the public is my best performance. Whatever else I give them is up to me. Do you agree with that?
O'DONNELL: I do agree with that. And I also think that people project on you things that are about them, not about you, so the truth of your life and the details really are irrelevant, because people like to reflect upon famous people whatever it is that is their main issue, so.
KING: The New York Post" said that you ranted on your show about the new NBC show "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." You had on a guests that who was in one of the shows. You were praising the actors.
KING: But what's your beef with that show?
O'DONNELL: Well, "Law and Order" is a great show, won a lot of Emmy Awards, and I am a big fan of it, watch it all the time. They had a spin-off. So me, like everyone else, very excited. Its called special crimes unit -- "Special Victim's Unit." So I didn't know what it was about. I thought, one week the mayor gets stalked by somebody. The next week a movie star is in town and there's a spy thing. That's what I thought it was going to be.
So I turn it on the first week, and it's all about sexual crimes, the sexual crime division. And I was shocked that they would make a show that specified just the sexual crimes. And the first week, it was about a woman who cut off a guy's penis, and the next week it was about a child who was raped and this. And I just thought, wow, they're going to make an entire series, an hour every week, just on the sexual crime division? I thought "Special Victims Unit" was going to be different. So I was not ranting. I was just saying my opinion, that it was on again, and that people were telling me I should give it a try.
KING: Is a show you would, therefore, not watch?
O'DONNELL: I have seen it. I saw it twice. But "Law and Order" is one I must see every week. That's one of my must-see shows that I see every single week.
KING: Do you have thoughts then on violence and -- "Law and Order" never shows violence.
O'DONNELL: No, it does not.
KING: It begins with a violence, but you don't see the killing.
O'DONNELL: No, and it's a really wonderfully written show that brings all of the socially relevant issues to the surface and makes people look at them.
KING: This doesn't.
O'DONNELL: To me, it's a little bit exploitative every week, and there's all sexual double entendres on the show. And it's not like I hate it. I just was very disappointed. It didn't. to me, live up to the level of the other "Law and Order."
KING: But didn't you say somewhere that you like "Oz," the HBO show, and that's a tough show about prison.
O'DONNELL: I'm not saying that my point of view is the right one. However, a prison show, in my opinion, something that I will never, ever in my life have to think of or live through, because I don't plan on going to jail, so what happens there is almost like going to Oz, the fantasy Oz with Dorothy. It's not really real to me.
But to see a thing where a little 7-year-old boy gets raped and a guy in a cab gets his penis gets cut off, I just don't see why that's relevant on network TV. You know, also HBO plays "Oz," it's on at 10:00 at night and, you know, to me it's a different thing.
KING: Do you think that television, which comes in for lot of -- television hyphen Hollywood deserves its rap on violence.
O'DONNELL: Yes, I do, in lot of ways.
KING: You share that view?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I do. And it has often pained me to be in a business that I feel so contributes negatively to society.
KING: And how do we equate that with our obvious belief in the First Amendment?
O'DONNELL: I don't know. I think that's something that we're all going to have to figure out, with the Internet and with all the available images for children, you know, that are out there. I don't really know to tell you the truth. But I will say that, you know, there are a tremendous amount of violence with no responsibility in Hollywood, and someone has to stand up and say, well, we won't do it anymore, well, we won't do it. And you know, you put on shows that are nonviolent, and they're successful and people watch them. So it's hard to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg.
KING: Do we know the damage it causes, do you think?
O'DONNELL: I think we can see it in society? I think you can see it with all of the issues in our country, and in our culture -- you know, the celebration of violence and the image that is associated with weapons of violence in our culture, what that does to young boys' brains. KING: Which leads us to the next chapter in the Rosie O'Donnell...
O'DONNELL: Which I figured was coming.
KING: And that's next, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I recently went to Mexico with my friend Genie, who's a model for the Ford agency, very tall, very pretty, very Barbie. Every Mexican guy was hitting on me. Sweetheart, sweetheart, how are you? Talk to me. Sweetheart, come over here. Lookie, lookie, what's your need? What you need? What you need? I need you to shut the hell up, OK. I've been in your country 20 minutes, I'm a little confused. Why are you hitting on me and not my friend Genie? Between the two of you, there's no contest. Bone is for the dog. Meat is for the man! So I'm moving down there next month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Lots to talk about with Rosie O'Donnell. Another guest joining us later. We'll get to that, and tell you about it.
OK, all I have to do -- I don't have to ask a question. O'Donnell hyphen Selleck.
KING: What happened? What's the story.
O'DONNELL: OK, I'll give you the whole thing from my point of view. But mind you, this is my point of view.
O'DONNELL: I'm sure he has another one.
Tom was booked to do an appearance for his movie that was coming out. At the same time, it was right after the Columbine incident, and his ad for the NRA was running in the "Time" magazine with Columbine on the cover. And the ad starts with shooting teaches children good values and ends with I am the NRA. And, I like many Americans, and like Mr. Selleck, I think, was very disturbed about the whole high school shootings and the wrath of gun violence in our country today. And so I said to the booker, tell him that the first segment we're going to talk about the movie, and the second segment we're going to talk about the NRA and his involvement and endorsement, his using his celebrity to talk about this gun legislation from going through. And they said OK.
And I don't think Tom Selleck was ready for the level of rage that it brings up in me, the whole issues of guns in our society. And I don't think he was prepared for me to say the things I said in my New York born-and-bred attitude. And it was very uncomfortable for everyone, for him and for me as well.
KING: Had to do it over, you wouldn't do it?
O'DONNELL: No, I think I would. I would do it again.
KING: Different way?
O'DONNELL: You know, I don't know. I think that now -- I just don't think that our show was the show that people would expect that kind of interaction. And truthfully, I set out to do what I hoped was an informative let's-see-both-sides-of-this kind of thing. But, you know, my heart starts going and my -- verbally, I start doing that. And, you know, he wasn't prepared, I don't think, and didn't expect to be attacked for his positions.
KING: Were you surprised at the reaction?
O'DONNELL: I was very surprised, truthfully.
KING: It came on the front page.
O'DONNELL: Yes, because I walked off the set and I said to my staff -- because it's a live show -- I said, was that as bad as I thought? How was that? Then we rewatched it and I thought, well, it wasn't that big of a deal. You know, it was two people with very differing views and it, compared to what our show normally is, seemed very, very hostile. But in terms of network TV in the syndication market in the afternoon, it wasn't as hostile.
KING: It wasn't Jerry Springer.
KING: Did it end friendly?
O'DONNELL: I told him afterwards that it wasn't my desire to make him uncomfortable, that we do have very different views and I'm sorry if he was uncomfortable during the show. But I'm not sorry about my position.
KING: Then the uproar started over you. You called in on this show...
KING: ... and then the charges that you -- one of your sponsors -- who is it? K-Mart? Are you...
O'DONNELL: I'm the spokesperson. I do the commercials with Penny Marshall for K-Mart and have for about five years.
KING: And they're the biggest gun-seller in America? Is that true?
O'DONNELL: Yes, they are. I didn't know that truthfully until after K-Mart because... KING: Well, how do you equate that now? What do you do with it?
O'DONNELL: Well, I'll tell you. Not every K-Mart sells guns, although the fact that they do sell guns is disturbing to me. Yet that's what they do. We've shot in about 20 Kmarts across the country. In the places that we shot -- in New York City or Los Angeles -- there has ever been a gun department, nor will there ever of the stores we've been.
The day after Columbine, after the Tom Selleck interview, I was looking through "The New York Post" and I saw a picture of a young boy holding a gun that he was thinking about purchasing at a K-Mart. I called Floyd Hall, the head of K-Mart and said is it true that you sell guns? Because frankly I did not know. He said yes, it is.
So I thought long and hard about that. I thought, wow, this is an interesting dichotomy to put myself in. And what the NRA and gun people said was, well, she's lining her pockets with money from K- Mart. What I've never said about K-Mart -- until I called on your show -- is that all the money that I've ever received from K-Mart we've given to charity from the beginning -- all of the money.
KING: Guns or no guns, you always gave that?
O'DONNELL: Before this even happened. And just last year alone, it was $10 million. And I don't say it on my show because I don't want to be like, wow, look how great I am. Look how much money I gave here and there. But the fact is I'm not lining my pockets with it. There are other products you can buy at K-Mart. And the fact that guns are sold there in a legal way, I wish that there were more stringent laws to make guns sold anywhere that they're legal harder to get.
KING: You would be -- you wouldn't be unhappy if they didn't sell them?
O'DONNELL: I would be very happy if they did not sell guns.
KING: Very happy if they did not.
O'DONNELL: I would, yes.
KING: And you continue to contribute what you get to charity?
O'DONNELL: I always have.
KING: Why didn't you say it on your own show?
O'DONNELL: Because I feel it's a little egotistical to say, by the way -- I give a lot of money away, but I don't make it public. I always have given money away and I always will give money away. It's the main reason why I continue to push myself and my career to do more and more as the amount that you're able to raise for charity and to give to charity by my celebrity.
KING: Donald Trump said on this program that guns should not be in the hand of bad people, but you can't take them away from good people. I mean, you're tossing balloons in the air if you try.
O'DONNELL: Well, you know, 4,000 children a year in the United States under the age of 19 are killed every year from gun violence. That's more kids than die from AIDS, cancer and from cystic fibrosis combined. Every day, between 11 and 13 children are killed -- children -- in the United States from a gun. The NRA will say, well, that includes suicides, that includes -- you know what I'm including? Anyone under 19 who dies when a bullet enters their body. The bullet left from a gun. That is what I'm talking about. We lead the word. We have the highest death rate from guns in the world. It's a sin.
When I stand on my show and say I'd like to raise money for cystic fibrosis, everyone stands up and says isn't she the greatest? I'd like to raise money for AIDS. She's so nice. But 4,000 children a year, that's un-American. Don't touch our guns. You have to make them safer...
O'DONNELL: ... is the bottom line.
KING: I remember speaking with you after the show that night you called in. And you were -- you were scared.
O'DONNELL: The night...
KING: "Scared" isn't the right term. You were nervous. You had threats against you?
O'DONNELL: You know, whenever you're a public figure, there's always a danger of that. But if you take a big stand in America against a big, big, big organization like the NRA, it's not always the easiest road to hoe. But if I'm going to dedicate my life to child advocacy, this is an area where children need to be protected. And it's the job of the adults to protect the innocent children in the country.
KING: So you had threats?
O'DONNELL: Yes, we did.
KING: You had to leave -- you didn't do the Emmy show because of that, correct?
O'DONNELL: No, actually I was supposed to be a presenter on the Tonys, and I chose to stay...
O'DONNELL: Yes -- with my family that evening towards the end of last year. I also was emotionally exhausted from the whole experience and just at a place in my life where I really needed a break. So I took the ten weeks in the summer and just concentrated on myself and my health and my children, because I was really worn out. It sort of had an effect on me in a way I can't explain, the Columbine shootings. I know it didn't happen to me. I know those weren't physically my children, but somehow I felt spiritually called to the table from this event.
KING: You are, I read, hosting a big event for Hillary.
O'DONNELL: Yes, I am.
KING: You're obviously supporting her?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I am.
KING: Did you give second thoughts to that -- not that you have no right to support her, but that you have this power of a television show and are endorsing a candidate for office?
O'DONNELL: No, I didn't, actually, because I'm not a journalist in any way and I'm not bound by any journalistic integrity. I'm just an entertainer with a point of view, in the same way my point of view about the "Law and Order" spin-off may affect that show, may not. You know, my support of Hillary may affect her campaign, may not.
KING: What are you doing for her?
O'DONNELL: I'm doing a birthday celebration for her here in New York at the theater where -- I think the New Amsterdam Theater, where a bunch of Broadway people going to celebrate her birthday and as a fund-raiser for her potential Senate race.
KING: Will you go out, speak for her and everything, do the campaigning?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I would. I think she is...
O'DONNELL: Well, she's an amazing woman. She has been a child advocate since the beginning of her life. She worked with the Children's Defense Fund under Marian Wright Edelman, who is one of my heroes in the world, and I think she is brilliant, has a level of class and decency that is rarely seen in politics, never mind the real world. And I admire her tremendously and I think that she would be a great asset to New Yorkers.
KING: For a long time, Rosie, children had -- maybe they still don't have -- no one lobbies for children.
KING: Because they don't vote.
O'DONNELL: Well, and it's pathetic.
KING: That was the answer generally.
O'DONNELL: Well, every organization in this country -- every minority -- if you feel as though you're oppressed for whatever reason, you can march on Washington if you are a grown-up. If you're seven years old, your father is beating you up or you're getting sexually abused, nobody is going to take you to Washington so you can march.
So it is up to the adults who were those children, who were neglected, to say we stand for them. And that is the group that I will represent with whatever power comes with my celebrity, the children who have no voice legally. And through people like Marian Wright Edelman and Hillary Clinton, they have had a voice. But not a strong enough one yet.
I think that, you know, we do a disservice to our children in this country in every way, starting from 11 to 13 kids killed a day by gun violence, right up to Medicaid, Medicare, health insurance. And they're really not treated well enough.
KING: Did this happen to you, this involvement, since you had children?
O'DONNELL: No, I think it was always...
KING: You were that way before?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I was. We -- you know, we were raised in a house with -- my mom died and my dad was not really emotionally available to nurture us in the way that I think children need to be nurtured. And we often had dirty hair or clothes that were mismatched or not cleaned because my father was not really there and we didn't have mom. And, you know, we didn't have the easiest road when I was a kid, and I never have forgotten that. And it's very easy for me to look into the eyes of a child and remember being that kid, feeling so powerless, wishing somebody would help me.
KING: And then when you have children, it's even more so, right?
O'DONNELL: Well, in a way...
KING: Because you see that...
O'DONNELL: The best thing that ever happened in my life is being able to give my children the life that I wished I had as a child, with I love yous and hugs and clean clothes and lots of love. And that's what we didn't have growing up. And I'm very happy to be able to give my own children.
KING: And Rosie O'Donnell had a tragedy -- you discussed your mother. That led to some changes in your life, certainly later on, got activism, it lead to a book.
KING: We'll talk about that as well.
Our guest is Rosie O'Donnell, and we'll talk about that tragedy, the death of her mother and what it's led her to deal with and another phase of her very interesting life. Rosie O'Donnell's our guest. This is LARRY KING LIVE.
We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Rosie O'Donnell was on top of the television world when she talked with us back in '97. Her year-old talk show was a huge success. She just won an Emmy, and just days away from hosting the Tonys. Rosie was really excited about that, so excited, in fact, she gave us a tour of Radio City Music Hall, the site of the Tony ceremony, the source, by the way, of some very special memories for both of us.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MAY 28, 1997)
O'DONNELL: Where the heck is Larry King? I've been here for 10 minutes. The guy told me to meet him right here. Larry! Larry King!
KING: I'm here, I'm here, I'm here.
O'DONNELL: Oh, geez.
KING: I was looking backstage.
O'DONNELL: How long does a girl have to wait on stage at Radio City?
KING: This is impressive!
O'DONNELL: Well, you know, it's Radio City.
KING: As a kid you came here?
O'DONNELL: I came here. See that balcony, fourth balcony, right up there. Sat with my mom, lemon drops.
KING: I came -- six.
O'DONNELL: Sixth balcony?
KING: Seventy cents.
O'DONNELL: Those were the days, my friend.
KING: All right, Rosie, I gather you're going to -- tell us a little preview, you will come through this door!
O'DONNELL: I don't want to give too much away but I'm...
KING: Give a little away.
O'DONNELL: Sunday, the Tony awards, first on PBS, then on CBS. This will be the stage I make my big singing opening number.
KING: You sing?
O'DONNELL: I sing a little.
KING: Will the announcer say, and now our hostess? O'DONNELL: And now please welcome your host, Rosie O'Donnell, out I come, through that door, singing and dancing.
KING: Through this door. What song?
O'DONNELL: With glitters. A medley.
O'DONNELL: All the existing up and running hit shows on Broadway. Six of them.
KING: Now, do you feel pressure?
O'DONNELL: No, I feel joy and I feel opportunity.
KING: Did you jump at accepting this?
O'DONNELL: I did, actually. I said, you know, anything I can do to sort of help get those ratings a little higher, and I'm not sure that I can, but I'd like to try.
KING: Because you're a Broadway lover.
O'DONNELL: You know that. It's the reason I'm a performer.
KING: Now if you're a hit, are you going to be like to the east coast what Billy Crystal is to the west coast? Are you going to be permanent Tony host?
O'DONNELL: I don't think so.
KING: Please, they need your hosting.
O'DONNELL: No listen... I'd like to do this one on Sunday, we'll see how it goes and we'll go from there. But to have it at Radio City, that's the kind of respect that the theater deserves and the sort of reverence. This is one of the most beautiful theaters in the world and to be here and have six thousand people screaming in celebration of New York's finest commodity, the Broadway theater community, that's thrilling for me.
KING: And are they going to let you be you?
O'DONNELL: I'm just going to host and move the show along. It's not about me, it's about theater.
KING: But you got to be funny, you got to be ...
O'DONNELL: Right, but it's a two-hour show on CBS.
KING: Off on time?
O'DONNELL: We're going to get off on time, we don't have a choice. And there's not going to be a lot of shtick. There's going to be a lot of, and now here's Mary Tyler Moore, and now here's Susan Sarandon, and now here's this... You know, and out will come the presenters and it will be a slickly produced show.
KING: Well backstage is -- this is the biggest stage...
O'DONNELL: It is.
KING: ... in the history of the world.
O'DONNELL: It is. It's a gorgeous stage.
KING: So what I just did is what you're going to do Sunday night, PBS, CBS.
O'DONNELL: ... our outfit on, both of us right now. I'll have glitter.
KING: When we come back, Rosie and I will be in the studio at CNN, right?
O'DONNELL: Yes, we will. We'll be chatting.
KING: Tell them in fact -- just say, Larry, and they'll go right to me.
KING: We're back with Rosie O'Donnell, the Emmy Award winning TV talk show host. Is this it now, is this forever, TV talk show hosting -- that's it?
O'DONNELL: No, well you know, it's not a bad gig if you can get it, tell you that much.
KING: Beats work.
O'DONNELL: It does, although you know there are some movie roles that come up, like there's talk of "Chicago" the musical being made into a film with Goldie Hawn and Madonna in the lead roles, and I would play Mama Morton. Now, that's still in negotiation and they're coming up with a script and -- but if that would happen, I would find it very difficult to say, no. So, that would be shot in New York.
And that would only be three or four weeks of work for me, so that's something that I would do.
KING: Rosie and Madonna...
KING: What is this thing? I mean, you always wanted to meet her, right? I mean, she's like part of your life?
O'DONNELL: Well, no, I...
KING: You did the movie with her?
O'DONNELL: I didn't really always want to meet her. I saw "Truth or Dare" and I thought, that if I did meet her, that we would be friends because we had so many similarities in our childhood. Both our moms died and we were both named after our mothers. I never...
KING: You were very close to your mother?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I am named after my mom and in the movie, she goes to her mother's grave and she sees her name on the tombstone, and I thought, there aren't many women who I can share that experience with, because that exact thing happened to me. And -- so, I knew if I would meet her, that I would become friends with her. I never thought I would meet her. And I met her two weeks after I saw that movie. And I told her of the similarities and we became very close ever since. And she is like a family member to me.
KING: What don't we know about her?
O'DONNELL: I think that you do know. She is very smart. She is a very smart woman. She is very kind and she's a great mother, and it really...
KING: She enjoys motherhood?
O'DONNELL: Listen, it warms me like nothing else to see how much her life has grown from the addition of this beautiful baby girl. And it's very similar to the way I feel my life has totally flourished and become full as the result of my son.
KING: Changes you.
O'DONNELL: So much -- changes you and softens you and you know, I told her, when I held my son that first night, how I cried so much thinking that my mother felt this about me and knew she was going to die. And I explained it to her and you know, I think she had a similar experience when her daughter was home there with her the first week.
KING: You went on with Oprah.
KING: And people were surprised at that, like you were rivals.
O'DONNELL: Well, we're up against her in 63 markets, and that's...
KING: You know your markets already?
O'DONNELL: Now I do. I didn't in the beginning, but now I do. Warner Brothers was not very encouraging of my appearing on her program, especially because they didn't want to have to explain to their station owners why they were losing the ratings that day so significantly, because they knew -- especially people who watch me normally -- would tune over to her to see me on her show. But to me it was not about ratings, and it wasn't about one day. It was about the reverence that I do have for her.
She totally paved the way for me. She's inspired millions of women, and I'm one of the women that she inspired. And I have such respect for her, and I wanted to do her show again. I did it twice, and she helped me in my career. When no one knew who I was, she put me on her show. She's a great lady.
KING: But you want to beat her in 63 markets?
O'DONNELL: I don't want to beat her. It would really make me happy to be on before or after her. That would be my goal. When I first though of this show, I thought that would be a wonderful complement to have Oprah Winfrey and then me, or me and Oprah Winfrey, either way, because I think that sentimentally I get what she's about. And I hope that our show is a reflection of the goodness that she brings forth on hers. So that would be ultimate...
KING: What do you make of tabloid TV, which she has not, but certainly exists -- the Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones?
O'DONNELL: You know, I think that there's a place for everything. However, it's not really what I choose to watch or to participate in. It is sort of like a humiliation festival. Originally, the genre of Donahue was to inform people about alternative lifestyles or ways of living or being or thinking. Now it's become a way to humiliate non-intelligent people. So you take somebody with one tooth with an IQ of 40 who say, my brother slept with my uncle's cousin's dog, and we flew them all here. And they've never been on a plane, and you entice them to New York with a hotel room and -- I don't know...
KING: That's usage.
KING: Why do they come?
O'DONNELL: Because they've never been on a plane, and they get hotel rooms. I don't think they really understand the price of their personal humiliation until they get home.
KING: Why do people watch?
O'DONNELL: I think to feel -- somehow part of humanity is to think that if somebody is doing worse than you, you're doing better than you are, but that's really not true. The goal in life is to try to seek the highest level, not the lowest, and bring other people up with you.
KING: Do you think the Jenny Jones hurt all of daytime talk -- the murder?
O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think it probably did. I don't think it hurt a show like ours, where it's a whole different thing. But I think it woke a lot of people up as to -- you know, the ramifications. I don't think necessarily her show caused it. I think that was a deranged kid and...
KING: But they are inviting deranged people.
O'DONNELL: Yes, they're inviting mentally ill people to come and share their problems. Although since her show -- since that happened, from what I understand, the shows now provide counseling these people afterwards, or at least the option of counseling. I don't know how much that's going to help. You get somebody who is able to be incited to violence to murderous rage -- I mean...
KING: Are you surprised the won the Emmy.
O'DONNELL: I was surprised, actually.
O'DONNELL: Come on, Rosie, you should have walked in saying, hey, this is my year.
O'DONNELL: You know what, I was my first year, and I think they don't often give it to rookies. I really did, and when "Oprah Winfrey Show" won Best Talk Show, then I definitely thought, well, we're not going to get it this year.
KING: You weren't Best Show.
KING: You were Best Host.
O'DONNELL: Right. Different category, but if there's ever anyone to lose it to or share it with, it would be her. So -- you know, I was happy she was three steps away when I won. I was surprised, I was overwhelmed, at the amount of emotion that did come out of me. I really thought that if I could avoid making eye contact with my sister, who was sitting right behind me at Radio City, I would be able to get through it without crying.
But after I hugged Oprah, I turned the wrong way and I saw my sister crying. And for a brief second, she was seven and I was eight, and we were in the fourth balcony with my mom. I don't know, the whole thing is a blur.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I have to say that I am overwhelmed. My mother used to take me to this theater with my sister, and we sat in the fourth balcony. We ate lemon drops.
O'DONNELL: And we watched the Nutcracker Suite, the Christmas show, and I feel as though she's guided me in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Rosie O'Donnell.
What made it for you? How did we all get to know you? What was your break?
O'DONNELL: "Star Search," 1984.
KING: "Star Search," Ed McMahon?
O'DONNELL: Without a doubt.
KING: Our next contestant is?
O'DONNELL: That was me.
KING: What did you do?
O'DONNELL: I told jokes. I was 20-years-old, and I was at a comedy club in Long Island. This woman came over to me and she said, I think you're funny. Can you give me your number? My dad is Ed McMahon. I was like, yeah, right. I gave her my father's phone number. I was living at home, I'm like, whatever. And about three days later, the talent booker from "Star Search" called and said, we're going to fly you out to L.A.
And I went out to L.A. I had never really even headlined at a club. I was MC'ing for 20 bucks a night at the east side comedy club on Long Island, and I won, like, five weeks in a row. And it gave me national exposure. At the time, there were no other TV shows to do for stand-up comics. It was the "Tonight" show, which had two comics a year or "Letterman," which was out of reach for me at that point. So, it was a huge break in my career.
KING: Do you know why you wanted to be a comic?
O'DONNELL: I didn't really want to be a stand-up comic per se. I wanted to do comedy; to be seen; to do other things. I thought if I showcased, you know, if I just went into an audition, they'd never be able to know I was funny or I could sing. And I thought, if I made an act where I could sing a little and joke a little, that I would be seen by a Broadway producer or a movie producer.
KING: What was goal-goal? What did you want to be?
O'DONNELL: Rich and famous, honestly.
KING: Rich and famous?
O'DONNELL: Yes, when I was in first grade, I used to tell them, I'm going to be rich and famous.
KING: And now you are?
O'DONNELL: Yes, it doesn't feel like you think it would.
KING: It doesn't?
KING: Biggest difference -- biggest surprise about it?
O'DONNELL: Nothing changes. You know, when I was a kid, I think -- I thought when you get to a level of success in your career, that all of the -- I don't want to say bad feelings, but the struggles that you have emotionally dissipate, and that's not true at all, and I thought that I would feel famous. I don't feel famous. I don't.
KING: You're still a little Rosie from Long Island?
O'DONNELL: I am and I don't even necessarily feel rich, even though I know that am, but I have some guy who does my money, my brother-in-law, actually.
KING: My brother-in-law -- that's Jewish.
O'DONNELL: Yes, there you go. I grew up on Long Island. But I go to the Gap for my son's clothes -- Baby Gap -- or for mine and I always go to the sale rack just out of habit, you know. And I hear people going, Rosie O'Donnell's at the sale rack at the Gap. But I think, why shouldn't I? It doesn't register to me that I have, first of all, the money and second of all, that people would notice what I'm doing with it.
KING: How about the stories, though, that you're tough to work on, people get fired, Rosie is a star.
O'DONNELL: They're all true. No.
KING: Jekyll and Hyde.
O'DONNELL: Exactly, well, we started a show and whenever there's a new show, there's turn-arounds, you know. And we had about four people replaced on the show, who are all talented, all who are off doing other things right now. That, I think is better for them and better for us at the end of the day. And we have a show that really works well and a very happy staff, but you know I'm also the executive producer. I think that if I was not the executive producer, I just had to come in host and leave, that you wouldn't have those stories.
But when I am the executive producer and we go to break and I go, OK, why wasn't the sound cue up on the -- how come this light did -- that light is flickering and my mike and her -- because I'm also doing other things.
KING: I'd like to be executive producer, but it also carries with it a burden. You got to worry 20 hours a day.
O'DONNELL: That's right, yes.
KING: It's more than just doing the show.
O'DONNELL: It is, but the show is definitely my vision. And when I went to Warner Brothers, I had the show intact. I knew everything from the opening animation...
KING: You know what you want.
KING: Back with more Rosie O'Donnell. She hosts the Tony's Sunday night. Don't go away.
KING: We had this person, this guest, back to back with you. You had him one day, we had him the next day. I wasn't particularly fixated. I like him. I think he's a terrific guy. What's with Tom Cruise and Rosie O'Donnell? Reveal it now here! Tell us! The world watches!
O'DONNELL: What could I tell you? I love the guy.
KING: I like him.
O'DONNELL: You don't love him?
KING: He's a great talent.
O'DONNELL: I love him. Do you love him? You just like him.
KING: I really like him.
O'DONNELL: OK, but I love him. I don't know how to explain it other than he makes my palms sweaty. He's like an old-fashioned movie star to me. Every time I see him in a movie, from the first time I saw "Risky Business," I thought I love that guy. There's something that is so endearing and innocent and virile.
KING: And funny. He's funny.
O'DONNELL: And cute. The guy is so cute no matter what look. I don't mind him with the long "Interview With the Vampire" scruffy look. I don't mind him with "Top Gun" crewcut. I don't mind him -- whatever look he has to me. And he always looks freshly scrubbed. Some guys, some actors -- I don't want to name names, Daniel Day-Lewis -- they never look clean. Not that they're dirty, but Tom looks like he has been buff-puffed.
KING: Tickle Me Elmo, who figured?
O'DONNELL: Who figured.
KING: Who knew?
O'DONNELL: Not me.
KING: What happened with that?
O'DONNELL: My son loves Elmo. Elmo has been on the show about 15 times this year. I always loved him. KING: Did you have any idea it would become a craze?
O'DONNELL: No, they sent me the toy, sometime in like September. I showed it on the air three or four times. We gave it away, and my son really loved it. He'd make it laugh, he'd lay on it, and I would tell the stories. I don't think I was the sole reason, but I definitely think I had something to do with it.
KING: They're selling it for $500 -- they were selling it for.
KING: The thing of discussing the son, which Kathie Lee Gifford has and had pain from, do you think a lot about that?
O'DONNELL: Well, I try to talk more about the parenting experience than about his specific accomplishment. I try to talk more about the struggles of being a mother, like what do you do when your son won't take the medicine, as opposed to, my son won't take the medicine. So I try to talk about what it's like from my point of view, as it reflects in my life. And I try to keep as much of the details of his personal, private accomplishments and achievements personal.
KING: Because it could affect him, couldn't it?
O'DONNELL: Well, I think it will, and I think that fame is a very big price. And even today, when I go to the mall with him or go food shopping, people go, hi, Parker. And I'm sure the kid is thinking, how does everyone know me? Because everyone says to him -- I try to not to use his name so much on T.V. I try to say always my son always, my son. It's something that we have to learn as we go.
KING: Why did a lady named O'Donnell name her son Parker?
KING: It's a little WASP-ish.
O'DONNELL: I'll tell you why, because he is an adopted child, and I didn't want to assign him a lineage that was not his own. I didn't want to -- you know, I wanted to give him a nondescript, non- ethnic-based name that was more easily connected to his own heritage biologically.
KING: Really? How thoughtful.
O'DONNELL: Yes. Well, I just...
KING: You want him to meet his parents someday, his biological parents?
O'DONNELL: I think that's definitely his decision and his option, and I would be open to whatever he wants to do in that area. I think they're the most generous people. And I have never met them, but I think about them every day and the gift that they gave to me and him. And it gets me all choked up. Look, I'm getting all choked up.
KING: If they wrote and said, send us pictures, would you send them?
O'DONNELL: They requested a closed adoption, the parents.
KING: So therefore, they don't know.
O'DONNELL: No, they requested it. At their request, they didn't want to know anything, which I honor their request. But I think of them frequently.
KING: You're a single parent by choice.
KING: Right, you wanted to be a single parent?
O'DONNELL: I was in a position in my life. I was not in a relationship, and I knew that I wanted to have children. I was never one those women got to be 30-years-old and thought, should I have a baby? I'm not really sure. I knew it. I knew it from the time I was 10-years-old, I was going to be a mother, and I was going have a lot of kids. So it wasn't a surprise to me. I think that I would welcome any way that kids could come into my life, and adoption is one of the options, and I think a beautiful one.
KING: Twenty years ago, though, almost impossible for a single parent, male or female, to adopt.
O'DONNELL: I was raised by a single parent, my dad. My mom died when I was a kid. So I never really thought of it as an odd thing.
KING: It was hard to adopt as a single parent 20 years ago, wasn't it?
O'DONNELL: I imagine it was. I don't really know. I know that nowadays it's definitely not an obstacle to adoption, and it's -- there are so many kids who need homes, and there are so many opportunities.
KING: Do you have a feeling, though, that a boy needs a father?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I think that there are many ways to define a family nowadays, and the traditional family that everyone thinks of a mother and father and 2.5 kids is not very realistic in our society today. Not that it's not a great goal to have, but it's just not the only one, and there are other valid forms of family in our country.
And he has so many male influences in his life. My brothers both see him three or four times a week. He's very loved, very taken care of and very much has men in his life as a primary part of his life.
KING: Want another baby?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I do. KING: Single parent -- another baby?
O'DONNELL: Well, yes, I would like...
KING: You would adopt again as a single parent, raise two kids?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I would. I'm very lucky. I have a lot of money. I have a job that affords me the luxury of bringing my children with me to work. I would like to wait until my son is three or four-years-old. I think that right now would be a little overwhelming, but the adoption process, you throw up a wish. If there's a match, they call you -- there your kid is.
KING: Guest selection -- you have a lot of people who are unknown, right? You bring people along, right? This is this part of the O'Donnell theme?
O'DONNELL: Yeah, well, I like to encourage young performers who wouldn't maybe have a venue without our show, yeah.
KING: You're used to being a guest, different being a host.
O'DONNELL: I prefer being a guest. Honestly, it's a lot easier. I don't have to think as much. I don't have to think, where are we going next? I wait for you to do the work, I relax -- this is good.
KING: You don't have to listen to the answers because I got to come up with the questions. You just have to...
O'DONNELL: Right, I just have to talk.
KING: What does Rosie want to do she hasn't done?
O'DONNELL: I would love to direct films eventually in my career.
O'DONNELL: Because I think it's the most creative part of the film making process, and to be involved in something from conception to finished project and the editing -- my mind works nonstop. It constantly goes, and I'd love to have to deal with all those pieces of puzzle and put them all together, and that would really be fulfilling for me.
KING: Similar to why you like being exec producer of your own show?
KING: And the director, he's the film, isn't he -- or she's the film?
O'DONNELL: Yes, they're the artist.
KING: They're the art form. O'DONNELL: And the actors are the paint. So when we did "League of Their Own," Penny Marshall stood there and she took a Madonna yellow, and a little Rosie red, a little Tom Hanks blue, and she made the painting that is "League of Their Own." All we were were the supplies.
KING: And you'd like to own the paint store?
KING: Am I correct?
O'DONNELL: I would like to be the artist, there you go.
KING: Any wish for Parker?
O'DONNELL: I wish him to feel happy and safe and to know that he is loved.
KING: Like him to go into the business?
O'DONNELL: No, but if he chooses to, I know there will be nothing I can do to stop him, but I will never take him to audition. He can audition when he's old enough to drive himself there.
KING: You'll never be "Ethel Merman stage-momma gypsy?"
O'DONNELL: No, unless they do a remake, and they want me for the film.
KING: A good hint! Thanks, Rosie, good luck.
O'DONNELL: Thank you, Larry. I Appreciate it.
KING: You don't need luck -- good talent!
O'DONNELL: I hope so.
KING: So, Rosie's out now, and you can bet she will be crusading for gay parents, and we'll be watching.
We're back live tomorrow night. Until then, good night.
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